Beware the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: On Empowering Language and New Year Marketing

New Year Graphic.pngIf you listen to as many podcasts as I do, you’ve no doubt heard ads for the new Huawei Fit. The copy goes something like this:

“The fitness tracker for every BODY. You don’t have to be a super fit athlete, the Huawei fitness tracker is designed to meet you where you’re at.” Continue reading “Beware the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: On Empowering Language and New Year Marketing”

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Quick Book Review: Why Diets Make Us Fat

51vhzejjbl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Okay, I’m not super wild about the title–not because I think fatness is bad, but because I think it plays into our cultural view of fat as a pejorative–and the book could use a little more intersectionality (though there is some), but otherwise, I highly, highly recommend it. It’s thoroughly researched, rigorously cited, and presents mountains of evidence I was unfamiliar with that have completely convinced me that calories in/calories out is laughably simplistic, that long-term weight loss is like a unicorn, and that the best things we can do for ourselves is find movement we like, eat nourishing foods, and not restrict.

All things I knew and agreed with politically, but had lingering “but what about”s that would pop up and fuck with my brain. Continue reading “Quick Book Review: Why Diets Make Us Fat”

Embodiment: War, Détente, Peace

This piece is about a year old (I write a lot that I sit on or discard or can’t figure out what to make of) but it feels as relevant as ever. And, interestingly, the idea of “body détente” came up in a recent journaling exercise I did, so I guess it is, as ever, an ongoing process.

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I want more than a détente with my body, I want peace.

I often go back and forth on the idea of body love. On the one hand, it feels vital, life-saving, and profoundly radical. It is a political stance and action (praxis, if you will) that has the power to counter and subvert centuries-old systems of power. On the other…I’m just fucking tired of thinking about my body. And how it succeeds and fails to fit into someone else’s ideals. And actively practicing body love (or acceptance) takes a lot of energy. Continue reading “Embodiment: War, Détente, Peace”

Food Rules: The good, the bad, and the ugly

To Thine Own Self Be TrueFood rules are a pretty contentious topic–some people live and die by them. Some feel that healthy eating habits (especially for those in recovery from disordered eating) can’t include them. Some like to reframe rules as “guidelines” and some seem try to delude both themselves and their audiences that their food rules are different and, no matter how restrictive they seem, they aren’t like that other person’s restrictive food rules.

If you’re on Facebook (or the internet) you’ve encountered a plethora of food rules: Whole30, Paleo, plant-based, vegan, raw vegan, “clean” eating, Weight Watchers, intermittent fasting, etc. etc.

I’ve tried more than my fair share of rules: raw vegan (cold all the time but felt great–possibly because the body’s response to starvation is a push of energy); Eat to Live (that way madness and–with 3 pounds of produce and a cup of beans a day–pooping lie); extreme calorie restriction; Geneen Roth’s (generally sane) guidelines; obsessive calorie tracking; and the one freeing but problematic rule: fuck it all. I’ve tried intuitive eating (and had a fair bit of success). I’ve done low(ish) carb (as an ethical vegan there is only so low one’s carbs can go). I’ve done low GI. I’ve paired both extreme calorie restriction and a more moderate intake with obsessive exercise. I’ve toyed with orthorexia.

What I’m saying is, I’ve tried a lot of rules. They’ve all, with the exception of intuitive eating, been a substitute for the control I was lacking in life, and a tool with which to punish myself.

I, like many of us, was never taught or modelled healthy eating/food patterns. So, when I’ve thrown off the shackles of culturally supported food bullshit, whether out of burgeoning self-love or politics (and, let me be clear, my self-love is intimately tied to–and a result of–my feminist politics) I have found myself floundering. What does a healthy relationship with food actually look like? What is normal eating?

This is a remarkably stressful question. Because, really, in this culture at least, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer. If I were to try to answer that question it would look something like this: a pattern of eating that keeps you nourished without angst or worry.

But what does that look like in practice?

I’ve been working through Making Peace with Food by Susan Kano. It has been revealing and hope-inducing. From it, I have incorporated three rules into my life. Rules that feel sustainable. Rules that give me a framework within which I can eat with freedom and care for myself, by nourishing both my body and my soul. The rules I’ve incorporated are:

1. When you are craving something, eat it. Indulge that craving. Enjoy it whole-heartedly.
2. When you’re not craving something particular, eat health-promoting food (fruits and veg, whole grains, protein, etc.).
3. When you start feeling stressed or compulsive about food flip the script from “Can I resist to this?” to “Do I want this?” If the answer is yes go to number 1. If not, go do something else.

In order to embrace these rules I have had to (start to) accept that weight-loss might not be in the cards. That my choice might be sanity at this size or angst at, well, this size. And that I can focus on a healthy and nourishing relationship with food and I can focus on getting really strong, fit, and capable, and that the mental/emotional work is to accept that my body will do what it does within those habits.

And that sounds like a pretty damn good place to be.

Taking Up Space (When You Already Take Up Too Much Space)

Certain parts of the internet are alight with the idea of taking up space–women claiming their birthright to live big, bold lives with a throwing off of the shackles of the social pressures to be small, demure, seen but not heard. I love this message. It speaks to my politics and my soul.

But for someone who has always been bigger than society wants me to be, it’s easier said than done. I have always been acutely aware of my “bigness”. Even in periods of my life where I have been pretty solidly “average” I saw myself as big. Too big. I can remember one time walking with my dear friend K and talking about the myriad ways I had been told, from a young age, that I was too big. In particular, a painful and not particularly true remark that has stuck with me for at least 15 years: you’ve got the shoulders of a linebacker. I took this on. I took this in. It was truth. Gospel. An essential truth of myself. She looked at me like I was bananas and said “but, you’re not. You’re just not a big person.”

Wait. Hold up. Record scratch and all other conventions. How’s that? I’m not a small or petite person, that’s true. I never will be. But I’m really not that big of a person. My shoulders have never hampered my ability find clothes that fit. They have always been solidly straight-sized. At my happy weight I’m an 8/10. Or a medium/large. At my not-so-happy weight I’m a 14ish. Still…average sized. Literally.

Now, this isn’t to say that only certain women, or women of certain sizes deserve to take up space. (Or that any size shoulders on a woman is bad or wrong, for that matter.) I believe every woman deserves to live a big, bold, embodied life. I hope to one day see a world where we all do. But I know my experience as someone who sees herself as too big and I know that taking up space, especially at the higher end of my weight spectrum feels like a dangerous proposition. Like I’m painting a target on myself. Like I’m claiming space not deserved. Like I’m trying to sneak into an elite club that would turn me away from the door.

And this feeling dogs me. It prevents me from being silly in an embodied way. For a long time it stopped me from dancing, one of my favourite things to do. For most of my adolescence it stopped me from being comfortable (I was one of those awkward chubby kids wearing a t-shirt and shorts to swim in–probably something that marks you as “other” more than any bathing suit could). It has haunted romantic relationships, as I bring all this invisible baggage the other person can’t see and would happily throw out.

And so I look at this movement bemusedly. On the one hand it’s everything I want. On the other, I can’t help but notice how many champions of it are thin, white, conventionally attractive women. And I wonder how those of us who don’t fit (sometimes by degrees) are supposed to take it up. For those of us who are bigger or have simply spent our lives believing ourselves to be too big, for those of us who are visibly queer, for those of us who are living with visible disabilities, for those of us who will never fit into a white supremacist beauty ideal, how do we champion a movement that calls for what we dare not do? For many women, especially those living in multiple sites of marginalization, taking up space is an explicitly dangerous proposition. For transwomen, and especially transwomen of colour, who face horrifically disproportionate rates of violence, simply taking up space can be lethal in a trans-antagonistic society.

I have no answers. I still believe in this movement, this ideal. But I can’t help but view it as an individual solution to a systemic problem. To a matrix of systemic problems. It’s neoliberal feminism. John Galt in empowerful drag.

Progress Goals

For most of my life I hewed to the traditional narrative of women’s fitness: cardio yourself thin, lift teeny tiny pink weights, and, above all else, motivate yourself through self-hatred. Cause if there’s one thing that experience (and science!) has shown, it’s that you can hate yourself thin. Oh, wait, no, it’s that fat-shaming is toxic as hell and not only does psychological harm but actually leads to emotional eating episodes that likely contribute to a positive energy balance (which is to say, weight gain).

In those days my goals were all about “less”: weigh less, take up less space, hate my body less (ironic, no?), eat less. The only “more” goals were in pursuit of that “less”: do more cardio, restrict more. Uh, that’s about it, I guess. It’s a pretty depressing state of affairs, no? And I thought about it all. the. time. Constantly thinking about my last scale weight; if I can afford to eat that second mini mandarin orange (seriously); if my 8 pound tricep kickbacks would finally get rid of my floopy arms/”bat wings” (let’s be straight for a minute, bats are awesome. We should all be so lucky to have bat wings. And bio sonar!). And I consumed unethical, bullshitty media to get my dose of self-hatred and woo-filled tips: Self, Women’s Health, Fitness, Glamour, Cosmo, Dr. Oz (I KNOW!).

And then I found feminism. And those shitty magazines were suddenly a lot less appealing. And as I cut them out of my life I started to see just how much self-hatred they had been inculcating. And while my exercise was still rooted in self-hatred I had flashes of embodiment. Moments where it felt right. Where I felt, for the first time in my life, like maybe I too could be some form of athlete. 

And then I met the love of my life: a pretty green road bike that introduced me to movement for the sake of movement; to that sense that all is right with the world so long as I’m on my bike; to the knowledge that my body could be instrumental rather than decorative. I was easily riding 60-100k a week for the pure joy of feeling my body do what it was meant to do. And as my body became something I cared for (if not yet loved) the food piece started to come together too. I found intuitive eating and realized that I needed to eat mostly body-nourishing things (which, for my body, tend to be mostly whole foods, with a focus on lean protein and lots of produce) to fuel my rides, and a few times a week soul-nourishing foods (in one word: chocolate). And I no longer really cared about being “less”. 

And then my health went to hell (as I’ve mentioned previously) and I gained forty pounds in a short time. And all of my old “less” stuff started coming up again. Weigh less, eat less, take up less space, and please, for the love of god, hate my body less. But this time I knew these messages were bullshit. I knew this was crazybrain responding to change and anxiety and loss of control. And this time I had powerlifting.

And the thing about powerlifting is that you can’t have even an inkling of “less” going on. You can’t be trying to shrink into yourself because your quads are in the process of becoming quadzillas. You can’t be focused on smaller and smaller numbers because lifting is all about more. More weight, more power, more capacity. You can’t be eating less and less because you won’t have the power to deadlift.

And so, slowly, subtly, my crazybrain shut up. Less became more. Exercise became movement–a joyful practice of trying and building and failing and flowing and dancing and lifting. And my goals became process goals rather than outcome goals. I am much more motivated by the prospect of doing a full ROM push-up than wearing an arbitrary clothing size. I seek the empowerment and embodiment of pushing my own weight off the floor rather than hitting some “ideal” weight. And, ironically enough, I’m now able to focus on (slow, sustainable, sane) weight loss without triggering ol’ CrazyBrain McGee because I’m motivated by the fact that push-ups are easier if you’re lifting less mass, that crow is more easily attained without these extra 40 pounds.

Just thinking about how much willpower was required to get me into the gym or to eat the salad I didn’t actually want in the bad old days is exhausting. Considering how much valuable mental time and space was taken up by negotiations and calculations and recriminations is heartbreaking. Thinking of the things I’ve been able to do the last few years, I have no doubt I couldn’t have done them with so much processing power given over to things that just don’t matter. Thinking of how many women (and, increasingly, men) are similarly giving so much of their time and energy to self-hatred and the pursuit of “less” makes me want to cry. We have so much work to do in this world, big stuff like ending systemic racism and small stuff like perfecting roasted potatoes, and none of that can be done if we are spending all of our time on the hamster wheel of self-hatred.